OPERA REVIEW: Don Giovanni

Completed on the 28th of October 1787, 'Don Giovanni' was Mozart's second collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and is, at heart, a retelling of the Don Juan story.
OPERA REVIEW: Don Giovanni
Completed on the 28th of October 1787, Don Giovanni was Mozart's second collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and is, at heart, a retelling of the Don Juan story. In the Victorian Opera’s rendering, the Don is portrayed as a lovable and charismatic rake, rather than the villainous and depraved lothario of old. The stirring overture was conducted under the exceedingly skilled baton of Richard Gill OAM. After a brief existential monologue from Leperello (Andrew Collis), Don Giovanni (Samuel Dundas) enters gripping Donna Anna (Caroline Wenborne) who has, to this point, repelled his forced advances. Her father, the Commendatore (Steven Gallop), responds to her cries for help, and Giovanni kills him in a duel. As Leporello reproaches his master, they are interrupted by Donna Elvira (A magnificent Tiffany Speight) -one of the don's many conquests. Sensing reprisal, Giovanni escapes while Leperello sings the famous catalogue aria; detailing to Elvira the number of his master's conquests in various countries, concluding with Spain, where the number is ‘Mille e tre’ -- one thousand and three. This is superbly performed by Andrew Collis, whose wonderful comic timing and rich, beautiful bass-baritone assured that he stole and proceeded to run away with every scene he appeared in. Having seen Mr. Collis in Bartok’s Bluebeard Castle some weeks ago, I can attest to his mastery of both the seria and buffo repertoire. Giovanni’s descent into corruption is furthered when he seduces Masetto’s (Anthony Mackey) fiancé, Zerlina (Michelle Buscemi), in ‘La’ ci darem la mano’ – ‘There you will give me your hand’. Fortunately, Donna Elvira enters and warns Zerlina of Giovanni's faithlessness. Donna Anna also arrives, accompanied by her suitor, Don Ottavio. She soon realizes that Giovanni is her father’s murderer and swears revenge on him along with her lover, Don Ottavio. I was disappointed that the beautiful tenor aria ‘Dalla sua pace’ was not supplemented at this point as it is in many productions. This addition would have surely displayed the level of beauty and control that James Egglestone possesses over the repertoire. This was evinced in his masterful interpretation of Act II’s ‘Il Mio Tesoro’. Another highlight is Donna Elvira’s ‘Ah! Chi mi dice mai’ – Both powerful and dramatic. Tiffany Speight has once again immersed herself in the role; portraying a tenuous balance between the tenacity of a woman scorned and the vulnerability of a woman still desperately in love with her betrayer. The story goes back and forth, with many comic twists, culminating with the statue of the slain Commendatore arriving at Giovanni's home with an invitation to dinner. Fearless to the end, Giovanni accepts, and is consumed by the flames of hell. Though sung with great verve by Steven Gallop, the weak direction of the action onstage lead to a comical effect. This weak direction, rather sadly, was made obvious for much of the production. The (many) Quintets were performed solely in semi – circles and straight lines while duets such as the wonderful ‘Ah, fuggi il traditor’ consisted of actors moving from stage left to stage right and back again in sequence. The coupling of James Egglestone and Caroline Wenborne as Don Ottavio and Donna Anna respectively was portrayed senstively – their small duet in the final scene of Act II was especially brilliant. The same cannot be said for the coupling of Michelle Buscemi and Anthony Mackey. Ms. Buscemi as Zerlina was wonderful to watch on stage – both a talented actress and delightfully voiced. Mr. Mackey as Masetto, however, seemed to have trouble with the material at hand, and at times, looked awkward on stage. I can only hope this was due to nerves. Samuel Dundas as the titular character was sublime. Possessing all the verve and dash of a prize stallion, Dundas’ portrayal was skilled to say the least. At times however, I felt that he lacked the necessary maturity to portray Giovanni’s descent into depravity. In years to come, I am sure we will see Mr. Dundas’ meteoric rise to fame. Music director Richard Gill decided on a small ensemble of voices to round out the cast. All were capable, and particular attention must go to the tenors, who were well–voiced and always interesting to observe. Mr. Gill again showed his great skill and experience in the Act I finale in which Mozart calls for no less than three onstage ensembles to play separate dance music in synchronization - each in their respective meter, accompanying the dancing of the principal characters. The sets of Richard Roberts were very handsome but sadly monotonous. The large stone walls framing the stage were constant fixtures, doing little to create the varied settings. The costumes" designed by Christina Smith are beautiful for the most part, and the inspired lighting design of Paul Jackson is consistently effective in creating mood and definition. The Victorian Opera is currently presenting an outstanding production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Though not without its faults, it is wonderfully sung with both style and character, and handsomely staged. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Don Giovanni From March 3–14 at the National Theatre, Cnr Barkly & Carlisle Streets, St Kilda Running Time: approx 3 hours including one 20 minute interval Tickets range from $30–$88, less for subscribers Subscriptions for the 2009 Victorian Opera Season range from $70–$390 and are now on sale For details, visit www.victorianopera.com.au

Gérard Schneider

Wednesday 4 March, 2009

About the author

Gérard Schneider lives in Melbourne. In his spare time (of which there is admittedly little), he sings tenor with multiple companies. Gérard is a reviewer for ArtsHub.